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Immigration, Dreamers’ future on ballot

Immigration seems to always be in the news, more so now with the 2022 midterm elections underway. In Las Cruces, a city that sits just a few miles from the border where over half the population is Hispanic, it is very likely there are “Dreamers” and people benefiting from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program among us here at NMSU, whether they be students or staff. The results of these elections could affect these and other immigrants for the rest of their lives. 

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the majority of U.S. voters say immigration is an important political policy issue, but Republicans and Democrats differ over which specific issues are most important. According to the study, “Republicans place particular importance on border security and deportations of immigrants who are in the country illegally, while Democrats place greater importance on paths to legal status … especially those who entered as children.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents patrol the border fence in Sunland Park, New Mexico, on October 30, 2022. (Photo by Juan Echeagaray/Kokopelli)

Neil Harvey, a government professor at NMSU, is an expert on U.S.-Mexico border politics. Harvey says the data show that, overall, the country supports immigration reform but as he puts it, “[political] candidates don’t want to risk their career by appealing to immigration reforms.”

Harvey says that immigration reform leading to more immigration is likely to be enacted by Democrats. According to a 2021 poll conducted by the CATO Institute, support for more immigration over the last 20 years or so has increased from 17% to 47% among Democrats, while support for more immigration among Republicans increased from 7% to 11% during the same 20-year period. 

Many Americans consider immigration as a human right, but one major concern is the amount of money spent on immigration enforcement and border security.

Additionally, according to the same CATO Institute polling data, 56% of Americans say the legal immigration process should be simplified. Immigrating the legal way with a visa can be a hassle and becoming a citizen or resident can be expensive. For families that cannot afford to enter the country with documents, which is the majority, it may be easier to cross the border illegally.

Fewer Americans (43%) believe increasing border security and building a wall along the country’s southern border is a viable solution to slowing down illegal immigration. President Trump campaigned on “build a wall.”

According to a Customs and Border Protection status report released in January 2021, 453 miles of new fencing was constructed during Trump’s presidency, but only 80 miles of that barrier construction happened in locations where no barrier previously existed. The immediate cost of Trump’s barrier construction was $15 billion. 

High costs for border protection are nothing new. According to data compiled by the American Immigration Council, the U.S. Border Patrol budget rose from $263 million in 1990 to $4.9 billion in 2021. Border protection has only grown in the past decades as more people are hired and more money is spent, but many argue this money could be used somewhere else, perhaps in reforming the immigration system itself.

Some argue spending money on border protection takes away from resources for “Dreamers,” people who are American in every way except on paper. Harvey says there needs to be support in granting legal status to Dreamers. 

“These many students who at a young age were brought without papers into the U.S., have grown up very much as American citizens, except they don’t have a birth certificate showing they were born in the U.S., and therefore don’t have U.S. citizenship,” Harvey said.  DACA was brought in under the Obama administration to help students and individuals who grew up in U.S. and are Americans, but are not legally recognized as Americans.

Some of these Dreamers could  be students at NMSU, they could be in your study group, or maybe your lab partner. Many of these students have never been to Mexico, and might not even speak Spanish.

This is an aspect of the issue that Harvey believes makes DACA a just policy that any political candidate should be behind. “Students, particularly, should be concerned about [DACA]” Harvey said. “These kids grow up and now they might be in our universities, colleges, high schools … this is an issue that students should be concerned with.”

On July 16, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that DACA contradicts federal immigration law, but current recipients will retain their status, for now. President Biden was disappointed about the ruling saying, “it relegates hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to an uncertain future.”

Members of Congress have tried to provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, but the July 2021 court ruling makes it impossible for new applicants to enter the program.

More recently, policy discussions have turned away from Dreamers. Now the focus is on the influx of undocumented immigrants, which has raised public concern over border security. With the future of the DACA program and its recipients uncertain, the Department of Homeland Security still vows to protect the program.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat,  supports an earned path to citizenship for Dreamers and others. In a 2018 debate, Lujan Grisham voiced her opposition to any anti-immigrant bills, and opposed Trump’s anti-immigrant policies. Lujan Grisham opposes funding for the border wall, as well as allowing local law enforcement to enforce federal law. Lujan Grisham also supports granting residency to immigrants in exchange for military service.

On the other hand, Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti has very different views and plans for immigration. He is against amnesty, and wants to close “asylum loopholes.” This view goes hand in hand with eliminating sanctuary city laws. Ronchetti believes granting amnesty incentivizes more illegal immigration. Ronchetti also proposes increasing border security and states he believes New Mexico has become a “superhighway for human trafficking and drug smuggling.” 

If Democrats maintain majority control of Congress, voters can expect greater emphasis on immigration reform and less emphasis on enforcement, as well as the return of DACA or perhaps an alternate program. If the Republican Party gains majority control, tighter regulations and challenges to amnesty for immigrants would take priority. Additionally, the DACA program and others aimed at helping immigrants receive citizenship would more than likely disappear.

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